Friday, September 17, 2010

1965: Hillbilly Bears

In the annals of obscure mid-'60s American garage combos, among the legions of fuzzed out foursomes, there is one truly fuzzy family who not only could make you cut a rug, but at their most furious maybe scream a little too.
Before the Dillards went electric, and before the Cowsills ever thought to get Mom into their act, The Hillbilly Bears were the family that rocked together. The innovative rhythm section consisted of Paw Rugg, who only had an old fuel can and tree branch for bass; son Shag Rugg, with an old apple squeezin’s jug; and Maw Rugg, on tambourine. This left daughter Floral Rugg (or as most boys seemed to always call her, Jailbait Rugg) to carry the tunage on an innovative four string electric lead guitar reminiscent of Tiny Grimes.
The Hillbilly Bears (or for appearances south of the border, Los Osos Montaneses) were discovered in 1965 rehearsing up in some hills and signed by Hanna-Barbera Records (soon to be home of The Five Americans). That same year, they landed a regular spot on the Atom Ant variety television program that helped them launch the dance craze hit "Do The Bear." HBR released the Bears’ debut LP, "Hillbilly Shindig," now a much prized collector's item, to catch the public interest, yet somehow the rocked-up roots music failed to move 12" units in the same way as Squiddly Diddly's "Surfin' Safari" album – also under the mighty HBR imprint that same season.
Perhaps it was a case, similar to Gene Clark's first solo album, of being lost in the shadow of the more established sound of a label mate, or possibly their sound was simply too regional to break nationwide. Sadly, the bear family's recording story began and ended with that one release. But, through reruns of their classic TV segments from 1965-1967, one can catch a glimpse of a future that might have been in Shag's "I've Got A Pony" – presaging Roger McGuinn's Chestnut Mare opus and the entire Country-Rock wave soon to follow.
Paw Rugg has been known only to grumble half coherently in his few interviews since, but perhaps – if the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, or at least a Hard Rock CafĂ© – could give his classic bass instrument the shrine it deserves, it might lead to a smile on the old bear's muzzle… or, dare we hope, a reunion concert?

LP found at Grooves, Market Street, San Francisco